Hips Up…Shoulders Back!
There are many reasons to keep your shoulders on your back. Even more reasons than the obvious: Because they belong on your back…not on your front.
Millions of people suffer from neck and shoulder tension. It can build up from poor posture, excessive sitting, poor movement patterns, over use, and general stress or anxiety.
The muscles around your shoulder blades and rib cage serve as a postural role for your upper body. Movement of the arms is also contingent on strong functioning of these shoulder blade muscles in conjunction with the rotator cuff muscles.
Through specific movement patterns, Pilates can teach you how to effectively use these muscles, thus reducing strain on the shoulder joint and rotator cuff, and your neck. And since Pilates emphasizes a whole-body focus, it will increase your awareness of how you use your neck muscles in relation to your shoulders and back, which further enhances your posture and reduces recurrence of injury.
Pilates develops your ‘shoulder girdle of strength’ by learning to recruit the deep-trunk muscles. Put simply, core stability training specifically targets the smaller and deeper back and stomach muscles. Once recruited, these muscles control the position of the spine during dynamic movements of your body.
Another great reason to keep your shoulders back alignment wise is this: when you do any Pilates over-head work lifting hips up off the ground in any exercise (hip lifts, rolls, reverse curls, roll-overs, short spine), if your shoulders are not on your back, you will use your neck to lift…..which is bad for your neck.
Sounds obvious, but almost everyone lifts their hips with shoulders forward and neck back (imprinting). It’s got to be shoulders back and work hard to maintain the length and curve of your neck.
Maintain the natural curve of the neck? Yes. Your neck needs to keep it’s Lordotic curve when you go over-head with your legs and hips. So what then supports you? Your shoulder blades!
Breathing, Short spine, Long spine, Roll-over, Hip lifts or rolls, Jackknife, Corkscrew, and any other exercise where you lift your hips off the mat must be with broad collarbones, shoulders on the back, maintain that curve in the back of the neck and keep the chin and eyes up to the ceiling. Do not lift up with your chin in your chest. Do not look down at your hips in over-head work. Look up not down. In Short Spine, Long Spine, Jack Knife etc. look at your legs above your head.
I often cue “wide collar bones” to open your collarbones and get your shoulders on your back before you move otherwise you will compress the cervical spine and bear weight in your neck and head. And I often cue “roll to your mid-back”, or thoracic spine not your neck.
You’ll find that you can’t lift as high as you have before …but you will!
At first it may be humbling…as you don’t feel you’re lifting as high, but as you practice these shoulder blades on the back for the lift, you will gain greater support and strength. You will find that with very little effort, far less than before, you will lift up high with great support of your shoulder blades rather than the support of your compressed neck!
I have seen clients miss the whole point of spinal articulation in hip rolls and short spine, simply to get “up” ….however, with a strong mid-back, proper scapular stabilization, and deep strong connectivity with one’s pelvic floor, transversus, inner thighs and outer hips/glutes, one will essentially articulate and float upwards in a safe and effective manner.
Pilates effective movement patterns
Training effective movement patterns throughout the entire body builds strength and ease supporting the neck and shoulders. Your hips and feet are connected to everything above, so building strength and support from the ground up is key.
When we are focusing on arm based, mid-back or shoulder work, we are looking to externally rotate the arm bones outwards, creating space and width in the collar bone, with the feeling of the top of the arm bone dropping back into its socket.
When moving your arms laterally (angel arms, back rowing, water-skier, seated spine twist), your shoulder blades act as a counter-weight to your arms, and your hands are light as feathers as your mid-back muscles engage throughout.
To avoid neck tension or pain, we aim to work proximally to the spine whereby you visualize 3 main things to stabilize your shoulders:
1.) The top of your arm bone is in the back of its socket + externally rotated, to create width across collar bones and top of shoulders.
2.) Your arm bone is attached to your sternum in the front body and scapulae in the back body + the shoulder blades move in towards the spine.
3.) Mid-back and spinal muscles are engaged + your scapula/shoulder blades rest flat on your ribcage creating a counter balance in arm work.
Whether you are lying on your side, back, stomach, standing, sitting, kneeling, our hope is for you to support your body weight against gravity and spring-based resistance with ease where your shoulder blades are resting lightly on your ribcage…where they belong!
Learning effective movement patterns will build strength without tension saving your neck!